Big Ten play opens under the lights in Champaign on Friday night as No. 10 Penn State plans to play spoiler to Illini Nation’s Friday night party. While this team has shown some bright spots this season (SPECIAL TEAMS U), there have been numerous struggles on both sides of the ball.
As we enter Lovie’s third season at the helm, what questions need answered in order to improve on his 2-16 Big Ten record?
Who Will Play Under Center?
As AJ Bush tries to come back from a nagging injury, MJ Rivers has stepped in and played admirably for Illinois. With just under 300 yards in the air and 142 yards rushing in limited action, Rivers has shown he is serviceable under center.
His passing game, more to the point the lack thereof, however, leaves more to be desired. The 300 yards has helped the Illini to a 2-1 record and his lack of interceptions shows he does not make big mistakes, yet it is his inability to hit the deep pass that has limited his production.
Will the Illini stick with Rivers for the foreseeable future or will AJ Bush get his spot back under center during Big Ten play when healthy on Friday?
Can Anyone Be The Go-To Receiver?
With less than 500 yards through three games, the Illinois receivers have had limited chances to showcase their skillset. Ricky Smalling and Sam Mays are the only two on the roster with over 100 yards in the air and Edwin Carter, out for the season, is the only Illini with receiving touchdowns. Illinois will need someone to step up and be that reliable, deep threat that this offense needs to open the run game.
For me, my money is on Trenard Davis.
Will Chase McLaughlin Keep Kicking Lights Out?
In his senior year, Chase has still yet to miss an extra point and sits at 7-of-7 on the year on field-goal attempts. Going 3-for-3 from 50 yards and beyond — and a long of 54 yards — McLaughlin has shown that after this season he will likely be playing on Sundays in 2019. The question will be, when the pressure is on, how will the kicker perform?
History tells us that few things in life are guaranteed: death, taxes, and Chase McLaughlin making field goals (minus Purdoink).
Illinois has proven that this team may be improved from last season. Once this roster is back at full strength and players return from suspension, the Illini may be able to tally 2-4 Big Ten wins. The conference has shown this season that many teams may be down this year and the Illini have some of the tools needed to make a leap in 2018. With a little luck and some more improvement, anything is possible for the Illini.
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